Did we say a few weeks ago that the Avalanche had no chance to make the Stanley Cup playoffs? Hey, it was just an early April Fools joke.
The Avs are back — thanks to a 9-1-1 run in the last 11 games, a hot substitute goalie and management’s decision not to hit the panic button with moves. Not that it will be easy to make up five points over the final seven regular season games, but two are against Calgary.
The Flames are the one and only team Colorado can pass if there were to be a postseason. It could come down to the final game when the Avs host the Flames, but that would mean the difference would have to be no more than two points. If not, the matchup meaningless.
Calgary has the more difficult schedule, with five of its last seven games on the road. Colorado plays 4-of-7 at the Pepsi Center. Except for an April 7 home game with Nashville, all the remaining Avs games are in their division.
What changed? Well, the Flames started to lose a few, Colorado stuck with backup goalie Peter Budaj and Joe Sakic does what he normally does for Avs — score goals and dish out assists.
Budaj got the call over starting goalie Jose Theodore, who has won just 11 games this season after being acquired from Montreal in the goalie deal that sent the disappointing David Aebischer to the Canadiens. Jose was hosed by the opposition and Budaj contributed a shutout and a one-goal win during the late 11-game surge.
The ageless Sakic, the Avs’ all-time leading scorer, is ninth in the NHL with 88 points. Sakic has keyed an offense that has outscored the opposition 41-24 in the last 11 contests. Budaj is raised his record to 27-15 and lowered his goals against average to 2.69. Theodore’s is a whopping 3.41.
As for management, give them credit for giving a vote of confidence to the players. Many observers around the NHL believed that winger Ian Laperriere would not be in an Avs uniform at this writing, but no move was made the players rallied around it.
Colorado’s improvement has been noted in Las Vegas sports books. Caesars Palace has the Avs down to 50-1 to win the Stanley Cup. First, the Avs have to qualify for the playoffs.
Suddenly, that doesn’t seem like wishful thinking anymore.